There are two accounts, however, that I was quite unprepared to hear. One was from a man who had had his cap stolen while he slept. To appear at morning roll call without a head covering meant immediate execution. While the rest of his bunkmates slept, he quietly crept out and stole another man’s cap, knowing full well the consequences of his actions. The next morning at roll call, he understood the significance of the single pistol shot. He dared not turn out of fear of seeing the lifeless face of the man who had died in his place. The same man testified that he dared not tend to his fallen father, knowing that meant instant death as well. He watched, standing, as his elderly father’s life ebbed away on the ground.

Even more chilling is that of a female survivor who, months after her liberation, discovered that she was pregnant. She relates her efforts to abort the fetus – from pressing her belly with a hot iron to lifting the heaviest objects she could find, all of it unbeknownst to her husband. “I can’t bear to hear a baby crying. I heard babies screaming at Auschwitz.” But in spite of her efforts, a child was born. When the child was brought to her, she remembers saying, “I wanted to kill it. I thought about it all the time.”


After walking back and forth across the central space, wondering just how much more you can take, you notice the rooms are becoming lighter, both in wall color and lighting. The lightening of the space corresponds to exhibitions devoted to the resistance, the liberation and finally the settlement in Eretz Yisrael. 

There is the testimony of a female partisan who recounts tossing a bomb into a Krakow café frequented by Nazi officers. She recounts her transformation from feeling like a criminal for having taken a life to outright pride. “I did it!” she exclaims. She positively beams when recounting that the Poles couldn’t believe the Jewish underground had been able to accomplish this, certain it must have been Polish commandos instead. Another talks about how bombing a train was “a glorious achievement” much more fulfilling than “simply tearing down telephone poles or burning wooden bridges.” 

These rooms displays weapons, ammunition, axes, gas masks, flashlights – even an accordion and a lute. “We were just like a real army,” a woman proudly testifies. “I was mainly sent out on patrols, but I wanted to be a fighter.”

The final rooms show scenes of liberation, including the entry of the allied soldiers, the dismantling of Nazi structures, the surrendering enemy, the German citizens forced to march past the dead. Testimonies in these rooms are remarkably similar. “All I wanted was to know that someone in my family had survived,” says one. In most cases, they hadn’t. “Now you come to save us? Now? It’s no longer possible to live.”

Others were able to recapture their faith in the future. Marriages took place almost immediately. One woman found some bandages in an infirmary to sew together to make herself a veil. “Our wedding ceremony took place at six o’clock. I had a Hungarian bridesmaid. Avraham had a Polish best man. Solidarity,” she smiles. Another recounts that she was one of seven couples who married on the same day. “Nine months later in the displaced persons camp, seven children were born in one week.”

The final room is dome-like with the underside filled with photos of the dea. Hovering over the spectators, they look down at us, daring us to meet their gaze. Spend enough time looking at these portraits and you are certain to see someone who reminds you of someone you know. The sheer numbers are stupefying. Exiting this room, the tearless visitor is the exception.


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